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A cut above the rest

An unprecedented look at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art offers a dazzling insight on a 1920s Pimlico institution

08 August, 2019 — By John Evans

Claude Flight, Speed, 1922, © The Estate of Claude Flight. All Rights Reserved, [2019] / Bridgeman Images/ photo Photo © Elijah Taylor (Brick City Projects)

DAZZLING works by artists linked with the Grosvenor School of Modern Art, founded in Pimlico in 1925 by Scottish wood engraver Iain Macnab, are currently being exhibited at Dulwich Picture Gallery.

Though short-lived, the school formed an important force in the production of printmaking in the inter-war years.

The exhibition – Cutting Edge – is guest curated by Gordon Samuel, of Osborne Samuel Gallery.

In his book accompanying the exhibition he says he has been showing these “dynamic and innovative” prints for over 35 years. But the thematically arranged Cutting Edge is unprecedented in its scope, with some 120 works including loans from Glasgow, Adelaide, Miami and private collections.

Samuel says: “What will strike visitors are the vivid colours and the modernity of the work – amazing to think that these were made over 90 years ago and remain just as compelling today as back in the 1930s.”

Grosvenor’s artists gained acclaim under pioneering teacher Claude Flight and a “revolutionary method of making the simple linocut to dynamic and colourful effect”. Flight recognised the potential of the prints as an art of the people.

Sybil Andrews, Speedway, 1934, Photo Osborne Samuel, London/ © The Estate of Sybil Andrews

An opening room looks at some roots of this dynamism and stress on movement in relation to cubism, vorticism, the works of “the only British Futurist” CRW Nevinson, and other avant-garde printmakers.

The Grosvenor School had artists such as Cyril Power, a lecturer in architecture, Sybil Andrews as secretary, Swiss teenager Lill Tschudi, William Greengrass and Leonard Beaumont. Samuel also includes works by three Australians: Dorrit Black, Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme.

A striking feature is how people and their activities assume importance against the backdrop of the machine age and rapid change. The section At Work/At Play features not only a merry-go-round and fairground (‘Appy ‘Ampstead in this case), singers and jazz musicians, but scenes too of workers fixing telegraph wires and putting up posters.

Others show the cleaning of a sail, workers handling a giant cable and men using sledgehammers.

The linocuts, drawings and posters offer an array of London scenes – tubes, buses, busy streets – and sporting events from rowing, speedway and ice hockey to horse racing and cricket (and from Tschudi, skiing and sledging).

While there are images of flight and speed (with Flight himself offering us, from as early as 1919, racing cars at Brooklands), in addition there are landscapes and rural scenes, including more “men at work” – this time at harvest – and from Andrews, who was a devout Christian, a powerful crucifixion image, Golgotha.

The two rooms dedicated to London and transport include posters commissioned by the legendary MD of London Underground, Frank Pick – among them collaborative efforts by Cyril Power and Sybil Andrews using the name “Andrew-Power”.

Cutting Edge: Modernist British Printmaking is at Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, SE21 7AD until September 8. dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

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